Samuel Failla, Vail Instructor, Dies While Skiing Outside Resort

The Eagle County Sheriff's Office took part in both a rescue and a recovery effort.
The Eagle County Sheriff's Office took part in both a rescue and a recovery effort.
Update below: Samuel Failla was such an accomplished skier that he taught others how to enjoy the popular winter sport at Vail ski area. But when he ventured out of bounds east of the resort this week, tragedy followed. Yesterday, February 6, the 24-year-old was positively identified by the Eagle County coroner after dying during a skiing excursion in the backcountry.

Failla was originally from New Jersey, where he attended Chatham High School. There, he excelled in both academics and athletics, participating in the National Honors Society while also playing football well enough to have been cited as one of his state's "football heroes" back in 2011.

The following year, Failla was named captain of the varsity football squad, and in 2013, after graduating, he served as a football-camp counselor with the Chatham Recreation Football league, working with fourth- and fifth-graders.

According to Failla's LinkedIn page, he subsequently attended the University of South Carolina with a focus on international relations and affairs. He completed a number of internships before matriculating from the school in 2016. Here's his description of his talents:
I am a hardworking and dedicated international relations and affairs major with a business administration minor and a focus on economics. I have a passion for business and also the environment. The hope is to combine the two and forge a successful career, whether it be creating awareness for the environmental problems around us, or helping to create new programs that educate people to the dangers we face.

I am building some great skills that will enable me to follow my dreams, and these include:

— Development, I have already helped successfully develop and market eco-friendly fiber products
— Business Acumen, I am becoming more aware of what it takes to be a successful business person, domestically and internationally. Knowledgable on different procedures needed to implement and enable ideas to flourish
— Communication, I have a voice, and I use this effectively to convey my ideas and thoughts. This has helped me to network in the right circles and create opportunity in desired fields.

I am seeking opportunities in a business-related role that specifically targets the environment, as I am in no doubt that I have the drive, dedication and now skills to become a valuable member of any team.
In the meantime, Failla landed a job as an instructor at Vail circa November 2016 and stayed with the gig through April 2017. An page touts his experience like so: "Professional Ski Instructors of America Association (PSIAA) Level 1 Certification. Worked as liaison between Product specialist and clients to ensure proper placement and product selection. Worked in a team oriented environment to instruct and asses ski ability of clients ranging in age from 2-75 years of age."

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Samuel Failla, as seen in a photo from his LinkedIn page.
This week, Failla was in the Vail area again — but the end of the story is infinitely more heartbreaking, as outlined by the Eagle County Sheriff's Office.

At approximately 7 p.m. on Monday, February 5, ECSO personnel learned of a 911 call from a skier who said that he'd fallen off a trail and had spent the past several hours trying to hike out of the area without success. Shortly thereafter, members of the Vail Mountain Rescue Group and the Vail Ski Patrol managed to find the man and help him to safety.

The next morning, sheriff's office reps heard from the man again — and he had surprising news. Turns out he'd been skiing the backcountry with a companion, Failla, from who he'd gotten separated. He assumed that Failla, who he hadn't mentioned to his rescuers, had returned home safely, but discovered shy of 9:30 a.m. that he was wrong.

This triggered another search by the Vail Mountain Rescue Group and the Vail Ski Patrol, which subsequently found Failla's body.

Thus far, authorities haven't released any additional information about the circumstances that led to Failla's death. As such, we don't yet know if an avalanche was a factor. A number of slides in Vail and Summit County on February 5 and 6 are documented at the website of the Colorado Avalanche Information Center, but thus far, there's no specific reference to incidents involving Failla and his friend. The most recent casualty mentioned is Abel Palmer, who was killed near Silverton last month after accidentally drifting into an unstable area.

What's clear, though, is that even the best skiers can get into trouble in the Colorado backcountry.

Update: After the publication of this post, a friend of Samuel Failla living in New Jersey reached out to let us know about a GoFundMe page launched on his behalf. The introduction reveals Failla was actually working at Vail as an instructor again this season. It reads:
Our Chatham community has tragically lost 24-year-old Sam Failla to a skiing accident in Vail, Colorado on Tuesday, February 6, 2018. Sam graduated from Chatham High School in 2012 where he was a captain of the Chatham Cougar football team and an active member of the community.

After high school Sam continued his education at the University of South Carolina where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2016 and was a member of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity.

Sam’s passions were snowboarding, travel and children. He spent many years babysitting neighborhood children throughout his high school and college years. This past summer, he traveled to several destinations such as Singapore, Thailand and Greece, where he had the time if his life. In November, Sam returned to Vail for his second season as a snowboard instructor at Vail Resort in Colorado. He was a favorite with the kids in the ski school and was adored by his coworkers and liked by all who knew him.

Sam is survived by his parents John and Whitney Failla, sisters, Alexandria and Ellie Failla all of Chatham NJ.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the GoFundMe link to assist the Failla family with the final resting costs and the creation of a foundation for under privileged kids to play the sports they love.

Thank you and God speed....
At this writing, more than $2,000 has been pledged toward a goal of $50,000. Click to visit the Samuel Failla GoFundMe page.